Audiobook Review: Guardian by Jack Campbell

12 06 2013

Guardian (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, Bk 3) by Jack Campbell

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Length: 13 Hrs 41 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Guardian continues the Lost Fleet series, giving us some cool new subplots in a relatively well contained story. Despite an overall lack of dramatic tension during the battle scenes, Campbell creates enough drama in other areas to provide us with another fun spacefaring adventure.

Grade: B+

Sometimes I wish Black Jack Geary would just die. There I said it. Yet, that is an extreme reaction. In reality, I wish he would get his butt kicked, make some stupid costly mistake, or in some way act inappropriately. I like Jack Geary. He’s a good guy. A really good guy. A REALLY REALLY good guy. He is competent and morally upstanding. He has basically won a war, discovered three new alien species, rescued countless numbers of prisoners and won’t even have sex with his wife because it may end up looking bad to the others in his fleet. He faces seemingly endless odds and comes away with all but a few smallest casualties which of course, he suffers and moans about leading his to a crisis of faith because he only saved 99 of his 100 ships against a desperate suicidal enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy him. Poor Black Jack. The Lost Fleet series is awesome. It really is. There’s a whole lot of fun, some cool physics, space exploration, aliens, government conspiracies and even some creepy ghostly stuff, but the core of the series is the battles and how Black Jack has trained his fleet to win. It no longer has become a series about whether Black Jack will pull their asses out of a fire, but just how he’s going to do it. I long for the days where the good guys may not come up with that last minute plan that saves the day. I’d like to see our heroes retreating with their proverbial tales tucked between their afterburners.  Hell, I will even take a pyrrhic victory or two. Or at least a small nose bleed. This problem of over competence in Military Science fictions bugging me. I need a series where out heroes lose nearly every battle. Where they are chipped away at, demoralized and constantly on the run. This was one of the things I loved about Battlestar Gallactica. You knew they would probably survive, you just weren’t sure how many people would die along the way. So, I now need recommendations for Military Science Fiction where out heroes get their asses kicked on a regular basis. There must be a series that meets this criteria!

Guardian is the third book in Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier series, the spin-off to the popular Lost Fleet series. Captain Black Jack Geary has successfully completed his mission to explore the space occupied by The Enigma, a strange alien species that has been manipulating The Alliance and The Syndicate Worlds during their century long war. Now, Black Jack and his fleet must return home through Syndicate Space with his new alien allies, and a priceless prize ship taken from another aggressive alien species. Yet, a strange quirk in the Hypernet Gate has the fleet traveling through one ambush after another in the hopes to get home. Guardian is another fun space bound adventure by Jack Campbell. Here he  changes it up from more traditional space battles to the fleet dealing with surprise and desperate almost guerrilla style attacks by a subtle enemy who doesn’t want him to succeed but needs to maintain deniability. This creates some interesting moments, but again, very little dramatic tension. You never really feel that the Fleet is in jeopardy, just wonder how they will overcome the latest challenge. While this is frustrating, it really doesn’t diminish the overall enjoyment of the series all that much. To balance this out, Campbell creates tension in other places, like the strange ship with it’s Ghostly defenses, an internal conspiracy against Geary within his own Alliance, a new cocky and comical new enemy and a fascinating look at Earth, which has garnished an almost religious place in the minds of the Alliance. I actually like that there are religious aspects to this series. Too often in far future SF religion is either used as a divisive force, or society has grown past such tomfoolery, Here, Jack Campbell uses a form of ancestor worship as a logical religious system that really is a part of the individuals lives but rarely affects the politics of the times. It’s an interesting look, and one skeptical people like me are comfortable with. I think that the science fiction explorations of this series are beginning to outshine the military aspects, and that is not that big of a deal, unless you are looking for balls to the wall, "once more into the breach" style hardcore Military SF. I do think that Campbell has some interesting subplots, and if played right, things could totally blow up in Black Jack’s face, forcing him to stop being such a nice guy and start unapologetically ruffling feathers and kicking ass. Am I wrong to want things to go bad for him so that I can have a little more vicarious fun? I hope not. Guardian continues the Lost Fleet series, giving us some cool new subplots in a relatively well contained story. The future of this series is a bit up in the air, but I for one am hoping for some dark times ahead for Black Jack and his crew. Yeah, I’m a dick.

What can I say about Christian Rummel that I haven’t already said in my reviews of like the 20 or 100 of his other books I have listened to? Well, I’m sure he’s a snazzy dresser and probably has some kick ass dance moves that make all the ladies swoon, but as a narrator, he pretty much has us all swooning. I enjoy listening to Christian Rummel narrations. You simply know what you will get. Strong characters, razor sharp pacing, and the ability to get a laugh when appropriate, as well as ripping a tear yelling and screaming out of my manliest of eyes. In Guardian, again Campbell provided him with a plethora of characters to play with. It’s funny, there really is not much detailed background on these characters. Who really knows how someone from some future planet is supposed to sound, yet Rummel brings them all to life in a way that just feels right. The Lost Fleet series is a whole lot of fun, and a great series for audio. Fans of military SF who haven’t yet taken the leap, why the hell not?

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Audiobook Review: The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

6 11 2012

The Lost Stars: Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

Read by Marc Vietor

Audible Frontiers

Length: 12 Hrs 21 Min

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

Grade: B

I have been a big fan of Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series since first encountering it two years ago. I was very excited, after the sixth book of the series, Victorious, which tied up much of the plot of the series, when Campbell announced that he would be writing two spin off series based in the same universe. I have always enjoyed spin-off series, particularly in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy. So much of good SF/F comes down to world building, and these authors create these vast and complex worlds, then the novels only give you a glimpse of it. Often times, when reading a science fiction world set in an elaborate universe, I feel like I’m given a newspaper, but only read the local section. There are so many other stories out there that can be told, and while the main story is what hooks me in, I often wonder what is going on in the world when the main characters leave on their next mission, and people go back to their daily grind. So, when I found out that the first spin-off series was just more of Blackjack Geary doing his thing, just with a new mission, I was sort of disappointed. I liked the book, and there were interesting new things to look at, but I don’t think it really gave us a bigger look at the overall world Campbell had created.  This is why I was really looking forward to Tarnished Knight, the first of a Spin off Series set in the world of The Lost Fleet, yet giving us a glimpse into Syndicate Controlled Space.

When the Syndicate Government lost its century long war to the Alliance, thanks to the efforts of the legendary Blackjack Geary, many of the Syndicate controlled systems fell into chaos. In Midway, a system that borders the space controlled by the mysterious Enigma Race, two former Syndicate CEO’s form an uneasy alliance in order to Midwa as an Independent System. Yet, their instinctive distrust of each other and the populous creates tension as the two new leaders try to figure a way hold onto the power they have. Tarnished Knight is a complex mixture of military science fiction and political space opera that has heavy doses of action, political maneuvering and paranoid conspiracies, both real and imagined. Campbell has created an interesting new perspective that gives us a glimpse into a part of his world that we have only seen through a filter of an enemy and outsider. Here we see how the oppressive nature of the Syndicate government has affected even those who are trying to break away from it. Tarnished Knight reminded me a lot of some aspects of David Weber’s Honerverse, where the complex political systems create a sense of institutional blindness, and an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. We have two main players, former CEO’s Icena and Drakon, who are almost genetically unable to trust each other. It was quite interesting to see the misconceptions and poor assumptions of basic drives of humanity that have been bread into these characters. We are given an outsiders perspective, able to see pieces that they can’t, and full of knowledge from the Lost Fleet series, that make their decisions often seem frustrating. Yet, it also makes a certain bit of sense from their perspective. I find this sort of complex merging of political realities and social engineering fascinating within a science fiction setting. Some fans of The Lost Fleet series, who expect non stop action full of large scale naval battles, may find the concentration on the minutia of everyday static rule to be disappointing. Yet, I felt, with this setting. Campbell has more room to develop his characters, and create something more enduring. Tarnished Knight is a promising start of a new series that expands the world Campbell has created in The Lost Fleet. While there are plenty of military engagements, overall there is less action, and more emphasis on character development and a complex political plot. Overall, Tarnished Knight is a winner, with the right mixture of action based military science fiction and political space opera.

My overall experience of listening to Tarnished Knight as an audiobook came away mixed. There we some definite continuity issues between Marc Vietor’s pronunciation of some names versus the pronunciations used in The Lost Fleet series. I really think this is something the producers of the series should have paid better attention to. Marc Vietor is a solid narrator. He excels at certain productions that are suited to his unique style. He was excellent as the voice of Webmind in Robert Sawyers WWW series, and brilliant as Mack Megaton in the Audie nominated production of AL Martinez’s The Automatic Detective. Yet, here, with a multi-POV tale, with a lot of characters, his almost robotic tones left something to be desired. It wasn’t that his characterizations were bad. I think he shows a decent amount of range for his voice, but, I felt that another narrator may have brought more to the table than Vietor does here. If this was the first entry to a brand new series, the weaknesses of his performance may have been easier to overlook, but since this is a well established world, the deficiencies were all the more glaring. That being said, my problems with the narration were not major enough to want to switch to the print version of this series. I can live with Vietor continuing as narrator, but if they do switch to someone else for future editions, you won’t hear me complaining.





Narrative Overtones: My Interview with Christian Rummel

27 06 2012

Christian Rummel has narrated over 120 Audiobooks, for companies such as Audible and Random House Audio. Among his many works are two of my all time favorite science fiction series, E.E. Knight’s Vampire Earth series, and Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series. One of the hardest things for an audiobook fan is to transition from print to audio for a beloved series, and luckily there are narrators like Christian Rummel that help make that transition smooth. Christian was kind enough to answer a few of my questions for Audiobook Week.

First question is an easy one. Can you tell us a little about yourself, and how you got started in the audiobook industry?

Christian Rummel: I grew up in an area of Pennsylvania renowned for its peppermint patties, Harley Davidson factory, and the near-meltdown at  Three-Mile Island, a local nuclear power plant.

I studied acting in college, joined the union after graduation and became a stage actor.  A few years ago, I got my Masters in classical theatre at a Shakespeare training conservatory.

Got involved in audio books because an old friend from the same PA town wrote a medical thriller called ISOLATION WARD. That friend, Josh Spanogle, also hooked me up with an audition for Random House, who was recording an audio version of the book. I got the gig, and that was the start of my career in audio books.

What steps do you take when prepping a book for recording?

Christian Rummel: I’m very low prep. I’ll (usually) read the book first, maybe think  about some character voices, but that’s about it. I’m not one of those narrators who use fifty different highlighters to mark character changes. I don’t like to mark my script at all; I like a clean page…

Walk us through a typical recording session. Do you typically work with a director or technician when recording?

Christian Rummel: I don’t have a home studio, so all of my recording is done with someone else in the room, usually a sound engineer, though some companies do like to hire directors as well. All the directors I’ve worked with have been pretty hands off, mostly just there as an outside ear and to sort of gently guide the process along.  Mostly, I just roll into the studio, grab a cup of tea and a bottle of water and get to work.

 


My first audiobook experience with you as a narrator was Valentine’s Resolve, the sixth book of the Vampire Earth Series by E.E. Knight. I was a little worries, because I had read the first 5 books of the series, and I was worried about a disconnect between how I imagined character’s sounding, and the narrator’s performance. Personally, I think you nailed it for David Valentine, and Smoke, as well as the peripheral characters. When reading a novel in preparation for recording, what do you look for in helping you decide on what you are going to do with a character?

Christian Rummel: This relates to the previous question regarding prepping a book.  Honestly, there’s only so much I can do with my instrument, so in choosing a voice for a particular character, I think mostly about whether I can sustain it for an entire book (or series.)  I also just try to go for variety, which is a lot easier for males. I really only have one voice for females, so it’s a matter of dressing it up with accents or different speech patterns

Have you ever received hate mail or crazy ranting reviews from irate fans of a series who didn’t like the way you voiced a character? I know some fans, particularly genre fans, can be brutal.

Christian Rummel: I’ve never gotten any crazy hate mail from irate fans. I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who may be unhappy with the way I’ve voiced particularly beloved characters, but if so, they tend to keep it to themselves or their blogging audience. None of them have contacted me personally. I think I would be more amused than annoyed if they did…

The other day, E.E. Knight posted a picture of the next Vampire Earth novel, Appalachian Overthrow. I sort of geeked out about it because it features my favorite character, Ahn-Kha, Now, I’m not sure about when and if the audiobook version of this novel will come out, but hopefully you will be recording it. Being that you seem to record a lot of series, do you ever go back and listen to you work of a past book to prepare for an upcoming title?

Christian Rummel: I never listen to any of my work, period. Can’t stand it! Even when I’m trying to put a demo together I will always ask somebody with a fresh ear to help me. I’m far too self-critical to listen to my own stuff.  I actually don’t own much of my own work. The books I record for Hachette or Random House come out in CD form; some of those I have, but not much digital stuff.

Another favorite series of mine is the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell. What amazes me about your performance in these numbers is the sheer number of characters you have to deal with. How do you manage to keep them all straight?

Christian Rummel: This sort of relates to the last question… working on a series like LOST FLEET, it’s like hanging out with your family. They’re all pretty distinct to me, so I don’t have much trouble keeping them straight. If you’ll notice, a writer like Jack Campbell doesn’t physically describe his characters at all. We have no idea if Black Jack Geary is 6’5” or 5’2” or what color eyes or hair he has. When I first started the series, I decided to have fun with the nationalities of the various characters, mostly so I could keep them straight and give them some variety. I thought about shows like STAR TREK, which boasted sort of a ‘United Nations in space’ cast, and gave the characters accents or dialects based on what nationality their last names evoked.

I would be remiss if I don’t talk about zombies. I am a huge Zombie fiction fan, and with the Permuted Press/Audible deal, there has been a flood of undead audiobooks. One of my favorites was Jessica Meig’s, The Becoming. Cade is a kick ass character, and you did a great job bringing her to life. She has a complicated vocal story, being a former Israeli Defense Force sniper, living in the American south. How challenging is it for you when you are performing women voices, particularly ones with specific accents? What was the strangest character voice, as for as regional and ethnic ties, that you had to come up with?

Christian Rummel: I’ll be honest: I’m not really all that pleased with what I did with Cade on that book. I have several Israeli friends who learned to speak English from British tutors and so have taken on a bit of the Queen’s, so to speak. That’s the accent I gave Cade, but I’m not sure it was really right for her background. I did my best to keep it as subtle as possible, so the listener can focus more on the attributes of the character as written, and less about whether her dialect was authentic.

I just finished a six-book series by Anne Emery, which had all kinds of crazy voicings in it, including a three-page monologue by a female Italian opera diva. That was a bit of a challenge… As far as the strangest, that’s a tough one. The Joseph Wambaugh HOLLYWOOD series have a lot of interesting characters: junkies and winos and drag queens; there’s a lot of crazy ones in there!

Do you have an all time favorite character? Is there a character, whether specific or just a general type, that you haven’t yet had the chance to voice, but would like to?

Christian Rummel: I don’t really have a favorite all-time character, but I do enjoy the         dudes who have what I call the ‘Badass’ voice: Black Jack Geary, Titus Quinn, Ray Lilley. Ironically, men of action, rather than words

I’m sure you have had moments where you’ve messed up, either misreading a text, reading a line in the wrong voice, or mispronounced a word. Is there any especially funny or embarrassing in studio moments that stand out?

Christian Rummel: I make so many mistakes every session that they’re impossible to recall. However, sometimes the script itself is so riddled with editorial errors that it can be hilarious. I just recorded an audio version of the 33 1/3 series about Slayer’s REIGN IN BLOOD (a personal fave) and the manuscript was full of typos. My favorite was the mention of Motley Crue’s first album: TOO FART FOR LOVE. It’s juvenile, but the engineer and I laughed a lot over that one!

Finally, if someone were to write the story of you life, who would you want to record the audiobook version?

Christian Rummel: Interesting question. As much as I dislike this actor, I’ll have to go with Christian Slater, because (sigh) his is the voice to which mine is most often compared. Sadly…

Thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions!

You can find Christian’s work at Audible.com.





Audiobook Review: Invincible by Jack Campbell

3 06 2012

Invincible (The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, Bk. 2) by Jack Campbell

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Length: 11 Hrs 46 Min

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Quick Thoughts: Invincible is a rollicking good listen, full of action, and a touch of humor. By creating some interesting new angles Campbell breathesnew life into a series that really wasn’t even close to death. The Lost Fleet is easily my current favorite continuing science fiction series, and one of the few that seems to just keep getting better.

Grade: A-

2013 Audie Nomination for Science Fiction

Invincible is the 8th novel written in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet universe. When I first discovered this series, I went on a listening spree of Jack Campbell and John G. Hemry, Campbell’s true identity, audiobooks. I listened to the four JAG in space novels, and the first six Lost Fleet novels within a span of two months. Yet, after listening to book 7, Dauntless, I wondered how hard it was to keep a series like this fresh. I liked Dauntless, yet, I felt like it was just another Lost Fleet novel, despite it bearing a new sub title called Beyond the Frontier. I struggled with myself. I loved the characters that Campbell created, and the basic formula of the story, which was bits of Galactic and Fleet wide politics mixed in around grand schemed space-based Naval battles. I love these stories, particularly the melding of space and interpersonal politics. I always looked forward to his Black Jack Geary briefings, where he had to employ just as much strategic cunning around the virtual conference table, as he did when planning a military operation. So, how much of the aspects of this series was I willing to give up in order to have something fresh. Luckily, this question never really had to be answered. With Invincible, Jack Campbell manages to keep the tried and true aspects of his Lost Fleet series intact, while creating new angles and potential implications that manages to revitalize this series with a fresh new perspective.

Invincible begins right where Dauntless left off. As Geary moves his fleet deeper into unknown territory, he finds himself trapped in by an unknown enemy. Campbell has left us off at an interesting place, and I was interested to see how he would resolve the situation. I had expected some initial discussion, followed by some trademark, kick ass battle scenes, yet Campbell surprised me. While Invincible is full of some awesome battle scenes, what really made the novel for me was the exegesis of the fleet’s unknown enemies.  Invincible does what the best space bound Military Science fiction, should do, it examines the new life encountered by the characters, and attempts to understand them, not just thinking of interesting ways to kill them, but actually trying to figure them out. Campbell has created some interesting new Alien species for Geary and the Fleet to deal with, and this adds a new freshness of perspective to this series. Another aspect of this novel that surprised me was the humor. There are some genuinely funny moments in Invincible, moments that actually made me laugh out loud. These moments were perfect tension breakers as the Fleet deals with internal problems coming from many directions as well as a sense of unease about what awaits them at home. Invincible is a rollicking good listen, with Campbell breathing some new life in a series that really wasn’t even close to death. The Lost Fleet is easily my current favorite continuing science fiction series, and one of the few that seems to just keep getting better.

Christian Rummel again impresses in his reading of Invincible.  Invincible has tons of characters and this is not an exaggeration. How Rummel manages to keep every character straight, I don’t know. Yet, he does more than keep them straight, but makes them all memorable. Each character has been given an authentic sounding voice that perfectly fits their personalities. His voicing of one minor character, Master Chief Gioninni, is the highlight of the novel for me, and I always look forward to him making an appearance. Rummel handles the complicated military maneuvers of the novel with a crisp, direct reading style that makes following the potentially confusing action easy for the reader.  For those who have yet to experience The Lost Fleet series, I highly recommend the audiobook versions where Campbell’s excellent, fast paced story telling is only enhanced by the narration of Christian Rummel.





Audiobook Review: Dreadnaught: The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier

5 05 2011

Dreadnaught: The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier by Jack Campbell

Read by Christian Rummel

Audible Frontiers

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: While not the best book of the Lost Fleet series, still a fun novel full of political maneuverings and spacefaring action.

Grade: B+

There is something just plain comfortable about returning to a favorite, multi-book series. It’s like visiting your childhood home. You know the best hiding places, which steps creak and just how to jiggle the shower nozzle to get the best flow. Sure, there may be some new accouterments, furniture, pictures on the wall, but, the structure is there solid and sure and full of memories. That’s how I felt diving into Dreadnaught, the latest Lost Fleet novel, and the start of a new series of Adventures for “Black Jack” Geary and his crew beyond the frontier. The series is full of characters you have grown to love, acting how you would expect. The Politics, both interpersonal, and intergalactic are consistent. Secrets are being kept, and conspiracies are being hatched, and the lines of who you can trust are still a bit blurry. Yet, despite the comfort of the return, there are new issues as well. A Destabilized Syndic Government, a Post War Alliance footing, and the Enigma race, a race of non-human sentiments, that are pretty much unknown to humans, yet have been meddling in their affairs. Yep, the Lost Fleet may have come home, but adventure is afoot.

Dreadnaught: The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier, besides being a hell of a title, is Jack Campbell’s (John G. Hemry) latest space epic in the Lost Fleet series. It is not the best entry in the series, yet, it would have been hard to pull that off for the author. Dreadnaught is the start of a new series of Lost Fleet novels, and Campbell spends a lot of time cleaning up the loose ends of the last series and setting up the premise for the new one. Those readers who are hoping for nonstop spacefaring action will be disappointed. The first half of the book is full of the political maneuverings and intrigue of the new Alliance government, as it moves from a Wartime Power to Peace time. For someone like me, who loved the political aspects of the series, then this novel is a blast. One of the things I like about Hembry’s work is it’s a different perspective on science fiction. His JAG in Space series is one of my favorite science fiction series, combining two of my favorite genres science fiction and legal thrillers. The Lost Fleet is brilliant because it brings so many aspects into the mix, political, the physics of space flight and battle, drastic social change and it’s affect on tradition based institutions, and good old fashion space action, into an accessible and exciting series of novels. Dreadnaught may not be the best of the series, but it’s a good example of the quality of the series, and leaves the reader wanting a whole lot more.

There are a few issues I had with the audiobook version. At points, there seemed to be sudden jumps in the story, which made you feel like you were missing something. With the written versions page breaks are used to show you are moving from subject matter, to subject matter. In the audiobook, these page breaks are run together, which can cause a feeling of disorientation for the listener. Christian Rummel, the narrator does his usually excellent job. He handles the multitude of characters splendidly. If I had any criticism of his performance, it would be that it was hard to differentiate between Geary’s external and internal dialogue, until the qualifier “he thought to himself” or “he said” was said, causing the listener to have to reevaluate what they just heard. Yet these concerns where pretty minor distractions to the overall excellent production. Hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of “Black Jack” Geary and his crew, and having his story told to us by the excellent Christian Rummel.